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Georgia's Opposition Leader Prepares for Presidential Elections - 2003-11-26

Georgia's main opposition leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, has announced his candidacy for presidential elections scheduled for January 4.

After leading Georgia's political opposition to victory in toppling the government of Eduard Shevardnadze during the weekend, Mikhail Saakashvili, of the National Movement, now wants to lead the country.

He said Wednesday he will be the sole candidate for Georgia's main opposition parties in the upcoming election, which they will enter as a unified bloc.

Addressing reporters from inside Georgia's parliament, Mr. Saakashvili said it was no longer viable to entrust Georgia's future to a single leader. He said he will work as part of a team.

He said he is confident of victory and of the opposition's ability to give Georgians a better life.

The 35-year-old, U.S.-educated Saakashvili led more than three weeks of protests against the results of recent parliamentary elections, which he and the West say were rigged.

The protests reflected widespread popular discontent with Mr. Shevardnadze and his government, which was seen as corrupt.

Georgia also plans new parliamentary elections, after the nation's Supreme Court on Tuesday annulled the results of the earlier parliamentary poll.

Acting President Nino Burjanadze, who stood side-by-side with Mr. Saakashvili during the political turmoil, will be the leading candidate for the unified opposition in the parliamentary poll.

Ms. Burjanadze has said that Georgia's most pressing task, other than organizing elections, is getting a handle on the economy, which she says is in worse shape than was publicly known.

A delegation from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United States is expected to go to Tbilisi next week to discuss Georgia's urgent appeal for financial aid.

Georgia's interim leaders are seeking help, not only in financing the new elections, but even more important, in rebuilding Georgia's dilapidated public infrastructure.